Dick Gregory was one of the ﬁrst Black comics to make a living as a stand-up comedian. He made it by making fun of the racial discrimination in America. One of the lines I remember was when he said “I remember spending twenty years in Mississippi, one night.” When President Kennedy promoted the Housing Rights Bill, he warned White America to be careful with Blacks because he may become your new neighbor.
Gregory took his show on the road with night clubs like Playboy and television shows like The Tonight Show. On the Jack Parr show, he demanded to sit on the couch where the White comics sat. Gregory, who ran for President as the Peace and Freedom Candidate, also ran for mayor of Chicago.
He lost but improved his humor as a result of both runs.
He once told a White audience that when he went into a restaurant in the south to get a meal they told him they didn’t serve colored folks. He said, “That’s alright I don’t eat colored folks I want some fried chicken.”
Starting in his twenties he was a success even though he started out so broke that he had to borrow a quarter for bus fare to get to his ﬁrst show where the audience was primarily White business men.
Gregory was a regular as part of the fund raising team for Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. He was always a part of The Trumpet Awards program headed by Xernona Clayton, the ﬁrst African American female to head a television show in the South. My wife and I always saw Gregory at The Trumpet Awards where he always talked about his family, made up of wife, Lillian, and ten children.
He was, in addition to a Comedian and sometimes Politician, a businessman who created with a partner “The Bahamian Diet.” He lost over 100 pounds on the diet and promoted it as part of his healthy living diet. Ironically, he died of a heart attack.
Gregory came from hard times and worked as a postal clerk and car washer before he got his big break where he was to stand in for another comic at the Playboy Club in his hometown of Chicago. He wrote ten books after determining that the smoke and toxicity of night clubs were contrary to his vegetarian diet and otherwise healthy lifestyle.
He once commented on the irony of living in a segregated neighborhood, riding in the back of the bus and being paid $5.00 a week talking about it.
He was smart and intelligent and graduated from Southern Illinois University where he was a track star. He kept White America laughing while talking about the evils of discrimination.
Another irony is that Gregory died on the same day as well known white comic Jerry Lewis, of Lewis and Martin fame. Both fought for a cause. Lewis fought for muscular dystrophy and Gregory fought for civil rights. Both were multi-talented. For my money Gregory’s humor served a public purpose close to my heart, as well as keeping people smiling and laughing. Lewis was from a Vaudevillian family background while Dick Gregory was from a family with an absent father and had to ﬁ ght every step of the way up the ladder. We will miss them both.
We can thank Lewis for ﬁghting against MS, for people who contracted it. But we can thank Dick Gregory for ﬁghting against racial discrimination for all Americas.